There should be a free vote on abor­tion


WE'RE LED to be­lieve that we in Ire­land live in a plu­ral­ist so­ci­ety, where all views are not only tol­er­ated, but wel­come. We're led to be­lieve that we live in a free so­ci­ety, where one is free to ex­press their opin­ion and fol­low their be­liefs. We're led to be­lieve that this isn't a to­tal­i­tar­ian regime akin to North Korea or China that we live in. And yet at times I won­der.

The moment has ar­rived where Ire­land will fi­nally de­cide whether or not to leg­is­late to pro­vide for abor­tion, and much dis­cus­sion has taken place over the past cou­ple of months on the is­sue, and in­deed even more will take place over the coming months also.

I have no dif­fi­culty in ac­cept­ing the fact that there are many dif­fer­ent views, from those who be­lieve in the right to choose, to those who hold the right to life of the un­born as equal to that of the mother, to those who feel its solely a woman's de­ci­sion. But one thing that I do have dif­fi­culty with, is the de­ci­sion by the Government not to al­low a ‘free vote' on the is­sue when it comes be­fore the houses of the Oireach­tas. The Government has stated that all of its TDs and Sen­a­tors must vote in line with what the Cab­i­net de­cides, and any in­di­vid­ual's be­liefs, opin­ions, feel­ings, mo­ral views or eth­i­cal stand­points about abor­tion do not mat­ter.

I fully un­der­stand how such a ‘whip' might be nec­es­sary when it comes to most leg­is­la­tion that passes through the Dail and Seanad, even for some­thing like the an­nual Bud­get which might con­tain pro­vi­sions that par­tic­u­lar TDs or Sen­a­tors dis­agree with. But when it comes to an is­sue like abor­tion, surely it should be dif­fer­ent - it's a mat­ter of life and death lit­er­ally, and be­cause of that a free vote should be al­lowed.

And as for the idea that all views and opin­ions are wel­come, one Se­na­tor in par­tic­u­lar has proven this not to be the case. In the re­cent hear­ings held in the Seanad cham­ber on the abor­tion is­sue, many dif­fer­ent groups and or­gan­i­sa­tions pre­sented their views and a wide range of ex­perts gave ev­i­dence. One such group to be rep­re­sented was the Catholic Bish­ops, and Bishop Christy Jones pre­sented their views quite re­spect­fully and ar­tic­u­lately.

How­ever, Se­na­tor Ivana Bacik was de­cid­edly un­happy that Church rep­re­sen­ta­tives should of­fer their views at all. In re­ply­ing to Bishop Jones' pre­sen­ta­tion she said ‘Can you say what busi­ness it is of a Church whose mem­bers are en­tirely and ex­clu­sively male and celi­bate to pro­nounce in such ab­so­lutist terms on such a crit­i­cal is­sue in terms of re­pro­duc­tive rights for both women and girls?’

Ms Bacik ac­cused the Catholic Bish­ops of op­pos­ing the leg­is­la­tion on the ba­sis of “misog­yny to­wards women”, which is de­fined as a ha­tred of women by men. Rather than en­gag­ing with the de­bate, or even dis­cussing the Church's po­si­tion as out­lined so clearly by Bishop Jones, she chose in­stead to at­tack those pre­sent­ing. It seems that she sim­ply couldn't han­dle the clear ar­gu­ment be­ing pre­sented, and chose in­stead to at­tack the speak­ers.

The prob­lem for Bacik was that Bishop Jones ar­tic­u­lated clearly the Catholic po­si­tion on abor­tion: Women who suf­fer from a se­ri­ous phys­i­cal ill­ness are en­ti­tled to all treat­ment nec­es­sary to save their lives, and some­times the child may un­in­ten­tion­ally die in the course of this treat­ment. This is both pro-woman and pro-child.

Bishop Jones men­tioned both mother and child in his con­tri­bu­tion, but Bacik never men­tions the life of the un­born child in any dis­cus­sion on abor­tion - it's as if for her, the child does not ex­ist. Of course she's en­ti­tled to her opin­ion, just as the Catholic Church are en­ti­tled to theirs, but that doesn't give her the right to de­cide that hers is the only opin­ion that is wor­thy of be­ing heard.

We live in a plu­ral­ist free so­ci­ety, per­haps it's time some­one pointed that out to Ms Bacik and her col­leagues who seem to want to muz­zle any de­bate and ram through their agen­das re­gard­less.

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